The Must Needed Connection: the Open Government Partnership’s Way Forward
In 2011, the Mexican Federal Institute for Access to Public Information and Data Protection, back then IFAI, invited a group of civil society organizations –including Fundar– to work in a new initiative called the Open Government Partnership. We were asked to make proposals of commitments for the Mexican First Action Plan. I personally decided that a project of dialogue and interaction between civil society, the private sector, and the government could become a powerful platform for significant progress in transparency, citizen participation, and the fight against corruption; always having the human rights as the ultimate goal: the right to health, education, peace, and a decent life. Five years into working in the OGP, I would like to share my assessment of this initiative and reflect on what its way forward should be.
I must start saying that, five years after embarking on this road, my assessment is bittersweet. On the one hand, I have to acknowledge that today we have a stronger international community of institutions and people interested in taking the issues of transparency, accountability and citizen participation forward, and OGP has undoubtedly played a key role in achieving this.
The interaction between countries created by OGP has been instructive for all of us; we have put a stop to prejudice, we have developed joint projects, we have learned from the experience of countries that had never crossed our minds. Thanks to OGP, people and institutions committed to these causes have been recognized, and their work and talent has been appreciated. And, certainly, there has been some significant and concrete achievements.
However, I believe that the huge investment we have made has not paid off as it should have. In some cases, OGP has become a process of “apparent openness” rather than a platform for effective co-creation. Very often, when defining action plans, middle-level officials are the ones who make commitments. And, afterwards, they lack the power to persuade their superiors or to compel other agencies to commit, much less to comply with the commitments undertaken.
Taking OGP seriously means opening a substantial and honest dialogue with civil society and taking on commitments at the highest level, which involve shifting bureaucratic institutions, investing material and economic resources, and, in many cases, promoting far-reaching changes. For some, open government still means opening public information databases or using information technologies when governing. They have not realized that it is about changing our current paradigm, since this has not yielded results.
OGP is about leveraging public intelligence located in different sectors of society in order to solve huge challenges that are complex and affect deeply the life and rights of citizens such as poverty, poor health coverage, unequal access to justice, etc.
It is about transitioning from electoral to participatory and deliberative democracies, where citizens are at the heart of government action and, therefore, can play a substantial part in the decisions affecting them. Ultimately, it is about democratizing information and decision-making forums, that is to say, democratizing power. And here, it is important to ask governments if they are willing to do so.
Until heads of government truly commit to use OGP as a powerful platform for solving the huge challenges we face as an international society, this initiative will remain a very good, interesting and commendable idea. Certainly one where many people from the social sector, private and public, will work enthusiastically in, but nevertheless a mediocre effort.
What should the way forward for OGP be? Well, five years after launching this project, and with a deep knowledge of it, I am convinced that we have a platform with the potential to make a significant contribution to the objectives that we want to achieve in the 2030 development agenda. For this to happen, the work of OGP should be linked with the huge challenges that affect most developing countries. And the OGP Global Summits, such as the one that is about to start in Paris, are great opportunities to assess what has been achieved so far and make this must needed connection between the work of OGP and these complex and huge challenges. For this reason, I invite heads of government, civil society, donors and private actors attending the OGP Global Summit to work together to leverage this initiative’s potential, so that it becomes a powerful one for solving the complex problems affecting our societies.
 This blog was written out of a speech made on September 19th, 2016 at the UN General Assembly.